Are You Still Working? Imbalance in Academia

Work Imbalance | New Faculty


On no particular weeknight, I had come home from school and was answering the emails I’d received, downloading work stuff, and updating other work stuff. As the clock ticked towards 8 p.m. PIC said to me, “are you still working?”

I work odd hours. By choice. I knew this when I signed up. My “traditional” days are not “traditional” 3/5 days of the work week. I find myself working until 7 or 8 in the evening, which isn’t a big deal considering we grew up unloading hay in the summer until dark or when a calf was being born, you were often in the barn helping her. As an academic, we often find ourselves squeezing in time here and there, depending on our teaching schedules and personal schedules.

Working hours like this enables me to do my work until it’s done for the day. On the positive side, I don’t feel bad taking an hour or two during the day to work out or stay home and make a good meal at noon instead of the evening. These days don’t happen all of the time but they do happen regularly.

I don’t mind doing it. I know it’s part of my job. It’s what was expected. I have learned to embrace the imbalance of the normal clock because I enjoy what I do, it doesn’t feel like work (unless the weather is really crummy on the drive), and for the most part, I usually don’t mind doing it.

HBR ran a blog piece about the imbalance of work-life and that embracing it from time to time isn’t a bad thing. I don’t know if I agreed with all of the authors points, particularly the one about technology being incorporated into many facets of our lives (yes, there is a time to turn it off), but I did think hard about….

“people who have jobs, rather than careers, worry about work-life balance because they are unable to have fun at work. If you are lucky enough to have a career — as opposed to a job — then you should embrace the work-life imbalance. A career provides a higher sense of purpose; a job provides an income. A job pays for what you do; a career pays for what you love. If you are always counting the number of hours you work (e.g., in a day, week, or month) you probably have a job rather than a career. Conversely, the more elusive the boundaries between your work and life, the more successful you probably are in both. A true career isn’t a 9-5 endeavor. If you are having fun working, you will almost certainly keep working. Your career success depends on eliminating the division between work and play. Who cares about work-life balance when you can have work-lifefusion?”

How I embrace the imbalance:

  • Magical words. I don’t count hours. Ever. I usually gauge how tired I am rather than if I punched a clock. 
  • I have fun at work (most of the time). I enjoy what I do. I have a great team to work with. I cannot say enough positive things about my employer or the people I get to interact with. 
  • I work with great students and teachers on active professional development, PD that takes place at each session, not necessarily at an eight hour PD day. I still get to see students learn, which is one of the most rewarding things in my life. 
  • Yes, I make money to pay bills. In fact, right now I’m the only one making a regular pay check in my house. Unfortunately, the government loves my single, no-child status and has gently reminded me of that after completing my taxes. 

As the semester gets serious and the pile of work, how are you embracing the imbalance that does happen. There will probably never be balance for very long, so when things fall in favor of work, how do you work to keep things in focus? How do you cope? As a new faculty, it can feel like you’re drowning most of the time, so what do you do when you need to come up for some air?

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3 thoughts on “Are You Still Working? Imbalance in Academia

  1. While I am still just a graduate student I understand this very well, an I am glad I am not the only one out there! While I do have other interests (SCUBA, rock climbing, travel, friends, etc.) I find myself in the lab most weekend, but never mind it because I love my work

  2. Mac says:

    My first term I was kind of drowning – so many grants, a new class, and I still didn’t know how things worked the campus (still learning that…) but this term I’m trying to stop when I sense I’m becoming less efficient or getting tired. One thing I’ve noticed is that I try to take at least one day off on the weekend and it leaves me excited to get back to work because it’s true – my job is pretty great. For me the balance is really a dynamic tension between work and play.

  3. […] year so far (six), I couldn’t be more exhausted professionally. I feel the need to discuss work/life balance to myself, not you right […]

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